25 years since 'king of pop' Michael Jackson bossed Páirc Uí Chaoimh

IF you thought Páirc Uí Chaoimh rocked to the ‘Boss’, Bruce Springsteen, two weeks ago, imagine what it was like 25 years ago this week (Tuesday, Jul 30), when the ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson, played two gigs there.

I was moonwalking with anticipation when it was announced that as part of his ‘Bad’ tour, in 1988, Jackson was coming to Cork. In late ’80s, we were starved of superstars like Jackson. But thanks to concert promoter, Oliver Barry, the deal was done. Online booking wasn’t an option and I scrambled to the local ticket shop to pay my hefty £16.50 to stand at the concert.

Sure, I had to beg my parents for me to be allowed go and had to queue for hours for the ticket, but no sweat.

My cassette tapes of Bad and Thriller were fairly worn in the weeks approaching the gig, and Cork was on high alert to welcome 130,000 fans.

For Oliver Barry, securing Jackson for ‘the greatest show on earth’ was one of the crowning glories for his career. "Having made the contact through Jackson’s agents in LA, I was able to convince his management that Pairc Ui Chaoimh was the ideal venue for the Bad tour. I’d already had U2 and Siamsa Cois Laoi there," Mr Barry recalled, adding that he found it hard to believe it was 25 years go. He vividly remembers presenting Michael Jackson with a copy of the Book of Kells.

"I remember the meeting, and he was very pleasant man,” said Barry.

Speculation was rife about where Jackson and his entourage would be staying in Cork. Word got out that it was Jurys Hotel on Western Road, and hundreds of people waited outside, hoping to catch a glimpse. Hundreds more had turned up at Cork Airport to see him arriving, and TV3 reporter Paul Byrne, who was working for Cork MultiChannel then, was there to film it.

“Jackson’s own TV crew didn’t get to the airport on time to film his arrival. We were there filming it and his management company asked us if could they use the footage we shot. As a thank-you, they later gave us permission to go backstage and interview the dancers, musicians and the manager, but we were told we wouldn’t be given access to Jackson himself.

“Unfortunately, I went home and fell asleep and my pager was beeping all evening, but I didn’t hear it. So, in the end our sound operator went backstage and interviewed them, so I missed out on all the excitement,” said Byrne.

The set opened with ‘Wanna Be Starting Something’, and when Jackson arrived on stage the crowd went wild.

For Catherine Linehan from Innishannon, this was her first major concert, at the age of 14, and she was determined to get to the front to see her idol, even if it meant losing her shoe.

“It was unreal to get the chance to see him and I remember going right up to the front of the stage and getting pulled out of the crowd twice, such was the frenzy.

“I lost my friend in the process, and my shoe, but I do remember it was an amazing experience in my youth. While I’ve been to many gigs since, nothing will compare to seeing Michael Jackson in Cork,” said Catherine.

Local DJ, Jim X Comet, also fondly remembers the gig.

“Just to see someone like him, who was at the top of his game, was unbelievable and it was an absolutely brilliant gig,” said Jim.

Mike Hanrahan was playing with Stockton’s Wing on the day and vividly remembers the excitement of supporting Jackson in Cork. Oliver Barry was their manager, and he persuaded Jackson’s management to have them added on the support slot, for the Irish leg of his European tour.

“It was an amazing experience to walk out on stage to two sold-out shows, with the crowd cheering and supporting a huge star,’’ says the musician, who’s now a chef at Pat Shortt’s pub in Castlemartyr.

“While we didn’t get to meet Michael himself, we met his band and entourage and we saw the commotion when he arrived backstage, but we were treated very well. It was a great moment and something we’ll always remember and it was great exposure for us, as a band,” says Hanrahan.

It has been 17 years since there was a large outdoor gig in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but because Cork GAA played their major games away this summer, they were able to make the stadium available for the recent Springsteen gig.

A GAA statement claims the stadium “will be available for concerts in future years’’ and says it is expected that the stadium, “when redeveloped and with vastly enhanced facilities, will prove an attractive concert venue for promoters, artists and patrons”.

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